MR Round Table: The Euphoria of Cancelled Plans

The Writers | April 22, 2016

Is it euphoric? And what does that say about us? Two new members of the edit team, Verena von Pfetten and Haley Nahman, join us

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Leandra Medine: We’re having this conversation because Haley (our new junior editor) pitched a story called “The Euphoria of Cancelled Plans,” which reminded Amelia and Verena (currently freelancing at Man Repeller) of a recent story in T Magazine by Molly Young about how staying in is the new going out. Is it? And what does experiencing joy when plans are cancelled say about us?

Haley Nahman, new junior editor at Man Repeller: The article sort of conflated the concept of staying in with our culture of convenience, but I see them as two separate entities, which are both susceptible to being overdone. I think it ends up being about balance. Leandra, you recently spoke on Monocycle about convincing yourself to stay in instead of going to a birthday party. But for me, it’s usually the opposite — it’s usually that I have to convince myself to go out.

Verena von Pfetten, freelance editor: I think that you already want to stay in (or not) and then you entertain yourself using Netflix and Seamless, etc. But I find it hard to believe that Netflix and Seamless are suddenly going to change your mind about staying in versus going out, which is sort of what that article suggested.

Leandra: I think we’ve deluded ourselves into believing that we don’t need other people, that we don’t survive on human connection. I don’t think marriage is a dated concept; I think that we are built to connect with other people. I mean, it is statistically and scientifically proven that people who communicate and interact with people during the courses of their days are overall happier than those who live in solitude. Solitary confinement is the most egregious punishment in our legal system beyond getting killed, right?

There’s something to the fact that we’re conditioning ourselves to believe that we can live just with our devices and feel like we’re not alone but actually be alone.

Verena: Well, I think that this goes back to the idea of socializing and building empathy, right? To your point of solitary confinement as a punishment, it’s like when children don’t get enough attention or affection, they grow up with behavioral issues.

This morning, I was telling Amelia about how one phone on the dinner table is enough to block the empathetic connection you create with another person when you’re speaking. So, I think we get confused by what we’re doing. We feel exhausted and don’t want to talk to anyone because we’ve been at work all day but we haven’t actually had any empathetic connection, which is a different thing than going out. I also feel like the rise of being an introvert is a trend right now. Everyone wants to talk about how they’re an introvert and I think the reality is that it’s a scale: everyone feels introverted and just because you feel introverted sometimes does not mean you’re an actual introvert.

Leandra: I think we get so caught up with trends, like “staying in,” that we lose sight of what the original impetus was. When I wrote about maximalist dressing versus minimalism, I was thinking about how, when the concept of building a basic wardrobe was initially presented by whatever magazine first brought it up, the idea probably wasn’t: “stop wearing all of this shiny shit, only wear this basic stuff,” it was more: “here are the supplemental pieces that you should wear with all of the flamboyant clothing that you own.” And then somewhere along the way — in between the initiation of Phoebe Philo at Céline and normcore and the death of normcore — we got really caught up in this idea of minimalism and forgot that it was supposed to be supplementary to something that had already existed before. It feels like that’s happening across the board. That’s what’s happening with this whole trend of staying in.

Haley: I think we started glorifying introversion because it was so previously uncelebrated. People who are more introverted have always had a lot more trouble going about social interactions.

Leandra: Introversion is also a character trait — maybe a stereotypical one — that fits in seamlessly with all of the other things that are “in” right now: the whole tech world, startups. You know? It’s one more piece of that puzzle.

Amelia Diamond: Yeah, it’s also tethered to our online culture. If you look at any internet-deep Reddit or Imgur-type sites, so many memes that start there revolve around being introverted or awkward. In the same way that fashion used to start at Paris Couture, pop culture now starts in these strange depths of the web.

But I would also argue that identifying “staying in” as a trend has more to do with the fact that we prefer extremes. First it was, “I’m going out and partying!” — that Sex and the City-type influence — now it’s the opposite. Can’t trends always almost be predicted by looking for the opposite of what’s cool right now?

Leandra: Is this just a New York thing? Also, I feel like our lives are a sequence of backlashes, like we’re consistently responding to the extremes that we are imposing on ourselves.

Haley: And balance isn’t very sexy.

Verena: I don’t think that I go out more or less right now than I have in the last ten years. Part of what you were saying with the Reddit thing, Amelia, makes me feel like social media is part of this and that it’s one big case of confirmation bias: because we now tweet and Instagram about the fact that we’re staying in on a Friday night, we feel like we’re seeing it everywhere and everyone else is staying in all the time. Maybe we’re staying in a normal amount but it feels like it’s part of something bigger because we’re seeing it more.

Haley: We used to never talk about it because it was a non-event.

Leandra: You know how it’s argued that we’re always alone now even though we don’t feel alone? The flip side to that argument is that we’re never alone because we’re constantly connected. So when you stay in, you actually really don’t feel like you’re in.

Amelia: I don’t think there are “two types of people” in this world when it comes to staying in or going out, but I do think there are two types of things happening that trigger the need to go out on a Friday and have major social interaction versus the need to completely shut off on Fridays and recharge. That’s how I’ve been lately, which is new for me. I have a very real need now for absolute quiet time once the work week is over. But my job is also very social — both online and in person.

Haley: I’ve always been like that — needing to stay in and recharge. It’s been nice that it’s become more accepted.

Amelia: Right. Now you don’t feel like a weirdo for staying in.

Verena: Another thing: all plans are tentative now because we can text and cancel them. I had a really fun experience recently where a friend of mine had galvanized a group of us to meet at a bar in TriBeCa for this band’s 1-year anniversary — and it was on a Tuesday. We all agreed that we would meet, but again, it was a Tuesday night and the band didn’t start until 10.

Slowly but surely throughout Tuesday, a lot of people fell out. I was one of the first. I was like, “I have so much work to do — I gotta go home, I can’t do it.” Another person was exhausted, someone else was sick.

I ended up finishing all of my work super late — it was midnight, but I was so happy that my work was done, I was like, “If you’re still there, I’ll just hop in a cab and come.” No one responded and I realized my window was closing so I just said, “You know what? I’m just going to go.” Because in the nineties, nobody would have responded to me and what’s the worst case scenario? I’m out, like, 30 dollars in cab fare and 30 minutes of my life?

So I went! I wandered around the bar for five minutes, realized my friends weren’t there, and I went back home. But I was so happy. The spontaneity of thinking, “I don’t care if no one’s there, but if they are and I do show up? What a fun surprise I’ll be!” — it was the most fun thing I’d done in years!

It was so freeing.

Haley: Maybe that’s what Molly Young was getting at. Now that there’s so much convenience and entertainment at our fingertips, it’s less compelling to take a risk like the one you took.

Verena: Right.

Haley: The alternatives are too good. Maybe in the past when there wasn’t as much ease and entertainment at home, people were more open to that stuff. That gamble.

Amelia: Except, I refuse to believe that social media is making us so lame. Back in the day, before Netflix and Seamless, there was still Chinese takeout and pizza delivery, you could cook at home, drink wine at home. There were still DVRs, VCRs, TV, the radio, books…

Leandra: Yeah! Women’s magazines have been telling us to like stay home and listen to jazz and drink red wine for years.

Amelia: So I don’t believe it’s the convenience keeping us in now more than ever. But I do really think that there’s something to the bragging about staying in aspect, which Molly touches on.

Part of the reason why I deleted my Snapchat account wasn’t because of FOMO. It was because when I was working late and really tired or had to go to something I didn’t want to and I would check Snapchat, these people would snap stuff like, “Staying in!” with like their fucking candle burning and a cup of tea. THAT’S what I get FOMO for. Relaxation?

Leandra: Do you feel like we’re reacting to the fact that we feel like slaves to ourselves? And when I say ourselves I mean our phones, technology, the convenience, the access, the choices — and staying home feels like a choice that frees us, the same way that going to this thing was a choice that freed you, Verena?

Staying home has become synonymous with taking back your own freedom, and that choice is actually what you have FOMO for.

Amelia: It’s like when you’re a kid and all you want to do is stay up until midnight because you’re not allowed to, whereas when you’re an adult, by 6 PM you’re already trying to calculate the earliest you can go to bed without it being weird.

Verena: If someone was like, “alright, nap time,” right now…

Haley: But have we reached a point where we’re not staying in with enough intentionality? Is it as good as it’s made out to be on Snapchat?

Leandra: Is anything as good as it’s made out to be on Snapchat?

Amelia: I have had nights where I suddenly realize I’m alone because my roommate’s not there and I’ve ordered in and I have a bar of chocolate and a whole season of Downton Abbey to catch up on and I’m like, “Are you kidding me? This is real?! This is so cool.”

Verena: The apartment to yourself thing — that makes me feel like this may be a “New York issue.” Places like LA can be super isolating because you may have to drive for 30 minutes to see someone. In New York City, you’re constantly on top of other people — walking down the streets, taking the subway. So I don’t think that the social media aspect of tweeting, snapping, or instagramming that you’re staying in is the thing; that is just a thing people do. But I do wonder if some of the euphoria of staying in has to do with finally having space to yourself. These are city-centric reasons that might make staying in feel like more of a luxury than somewhere else.

Amelia: Yeah, it’s a high, high, high stimulation city. For sure.

Haley: And with that comes a lot of visibility about what everyone is doing socially and a self-imposed pressure to be doing something outside of the house, too. And I think the reason I experience euphoria when plans are cancelled is because I at least get credit for trying. It relieves the pressure of feeling like I need to be social without requiring anything from me. And there’s really something to that. Because not trying brings a level of guilt. But if I get to stay home and I tried to go out… it’s a double-whammy. Euphoria commences.

Amelia: It’s like if you call someone who’s been trying to get ahold of you and you get their voicemail and it’s like, “Well, I called!”

Haley: Yes!

Verena: That’s the exact same euphoria. Because it’s like checking off a to-do list thing.

Leandra: Back to the tentative plans thing, I was just telling my husband that I need to get out of this thought pattern of believing every decision is revokable. You know? I have to start thinking that when I make a concrete decision, that’s it. No turning back. If I say I’m going to do something, I should do it.

I started employing that mechanism with work events about six months ago after Amy Astley told me that when she RSVPs to an event and says yes, no matter what comes next, she goes.Unless an emergency or family thing comes up, she’s never going to cancel an event she previously committed to just because she got invited to, like, a gala right afterward.

So I thought, “That’s a really good rule. I’m going to implement that, too.” And I did! And it’s made fielding events so much easier because I think, “Well, I said yes to that one so I’m definitely going to go.” It’s even made me think a little more thoughtfully about the ones I say yes to and the ones I don’t.

Haley: The trouble for me is I often feel so different when I commit versus when the event actually comes. And what I’ve been thinking a lot about is this conundrum of whether you should embrace your introverted or extroverted inclinations — sliding scale or not — or fight against them. Like, should I embrace that I’m introverted and say no or cancel, or should I push myself by saying yes and going?

Verena: I think a combination. Self-awareness is the king of everything, right? As long as you recognize it and don’t use it as a fallback. It’s kind of like your thing about hormones, Haley. The awareness is helpful, but the moment you start to use it as an excuse, it’s a problem.

Amelia: Do you think it’s an age thing? That if we’re all around the same age, we’re all maturing at the same time — we have more demanding jobs and have tapped out on partying like we did as college kids — and so we think we’re seeing a trend, but really, the world’s always been like this? We always assume that what we’re seeing is the only pattern happening.

Haley: Yeah. I mean, there are so many articles and memes about, “You know you’re 30 when…you want to stay in instead of go out!” Don’t you think that’s been happening forever? And maybe the idea of cancelling plans is just something we’re talking about more because introversion is trending or something.

Leandra: I don’t get excited when plans get cancelled. I scramble and try to make new ones.

Verena: So you don’t identify with the feeling of euphoria around plans getting cancelled?

Leandra: No, I don’t. I was actually thinking of people to hang out with last night just in case my 7 PM dinner got cancelled. It was so nice out! I didn’t want to go home.

Verena: If my plans get cancelled then I’ll find something else to do, too. But that’s sort of where I think it’s a spectrum: there are nights where I just want to be extroverted and be out and find something to do. And if that’s taking myself out to dinner, then I’ll do that. I eat out by myself all the time.

Amelia: Leandra, you bring up the nice weather…that has to play a role in all of this. It just started being nice, but everyone’s been in hibernation mode because of winter. It’s been cold. Of course “everyone” has been staying in. I doubt this article would get written in August, or that you would’ve pitched “The Euphoria of Cancelled Plans” in July, Haley.

Can you imagine telling your grandparents, this though? That you have this problem. They’d be like, “What are you complaining about? You’re invited to a birthday party. Poor you! GO.”

Leandra: First world problems are funny. I was thinking that as we are sitting here having this conversation. Is it a millennial thing to sit around a pick apart the nuances of what defines our culture? Did any of the generations before us do that?

Amelia: Yes.

Verena: They just didn’t do it publicly. They didn’t do it with a platform.

I would love to get the perspective of somebody who does not live in New York City. Like, I know it’s a social media trend, and that’s national, but I would love to get the perspective of someone who doesn’t work in a social job or in an area where you’re constantly surrounded by people. I wonder if they would be like, “This is a joke, this is nonsense.”

Amelia: A friend of mine — a big, going out, drinking every night type of party girl — moved to the suburbs about a year ago. She never complains about “having plans” now because the pressure to have plans 24/7 is gone. Getting drinks at 11 PM on a Wednesday is no longer an option.

Verena: There was a New York Times article a couple of years ago about an editor who moved from San Francisco to the country in Hudson, New York to be the executive editor of Modern Farmer. She wrote a great piece about how she thought this was her big moment of, I’m done with the city, with being busy. I’m going to live the Instagram dream of my claw foot bathtub and not feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Within 6 months she had to leave because she was so depressed. She felt lonely and that it’s one thing to make the choice to stay in — it’s another to feel like you have no choice but to stay in. So I do think it all goes back to the fact that maybe we’re trying to take back our choice.

Haley: Yeah, too much of anything gets boring or depressing. Too many nights out in a row, too many nights in. Either way you feel depleted.

Verena: Maybe the answer is we all get rid of our phones and only ever show up as a surprise because then there’s no let down! You can’t text and be like, “Is the party good? Who’s there?”

Leandra: I like the idea of living a life with no expectations.

Haley: That’s a Buddhist thing!

Leandra: And recognizing that this is a luxury. We have the luxury of choosing to stay in or go out. There’s a level of appreciation that should be allocated to that.

Verena. Right. So maybe to honor that luxury we should make a conscious choice to stick to our plans rather than avoid all of it.

Amelia: Commitment!

Haley: Yeah.

Leandra: Yeah. Do you.

Verena: And then tweet about it.

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; creative direction/styling by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Ellie

    On a totally boring point of view.. I think economic change actually has played such a large part! I live in London, which has always been more expensive living cost wise than anywhere else in the UK, but like a few years ago my friends and I would always go out for food and drinks but it’s so much more spendy now that the plans have kinda turned to.. Let’s stay in at one persons house and buy drinks and food from the supermarket (with added benefit that host can stay in PJs ;))

    • Ellie

      Also totally with Leandra on the weather point.. It really does rain here all the fucking time and bleugh who wants to go out in the rain?! Especially as rainy day outfits are so hard to pick out.. Hint hint hint 😉

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  • Lauren A.G.

    I have a boring desk job so when the weekend rolls around, I have an almost maniacal need to go out and be around people. I wish I could be more zen about staying in (it would make my boyfriend and my bank account happy), but the thought of going home on a Friday and Netflixing fills me with existential dread. Once 5:00 approaches, I’m overwhelmed by the need to feel like I am a part of it all.

    • Alison

      I think this is a big part of it. My job takes a lot out of me right now, so I love couch nights. My partner is also on the tenure track, so we massage each others’ feet and binge. Mindlessness together.

    • Tearinitup

      If you live in a large city, there’s also the thought of “If I’m gonna spend more money to live here, I’m damn sure going to enjoy it.”

  • I really love staying in but not so much on my own. I like to invite friends around and chill at my house with them. I like to be around people a lot but also like the comfort of my own home.

    http://ohduckydarling.com

  • Autumn

    I live in a moderate-sized city in WI and I love and hate when plans get cancelled. Many of my good girl friends are married and have small children so they don’t go out much – because of that we plan dinners and other things a couple weeks in advance and make a very conscious effort to attend, working around everyone’s schedule. Otherwise, part of the beauty of not living in a big city is knowing certain friends will always be at certain places on the weekends. If I really have the need to go out on a Saturday I can just show up and will see a bunch of people I know. Like Cheers kinda! But staying in at night always feels good.

  • Hayls

    I completely agree about the whole spectrum thing – and I also think being home alone on Saturday night can be one of the greatest feelings. I love my roommate dearly, but if she’s gone and I have tentative plans that I’m not excited about that get cancelled – and subsequently realize I am home by myself it is THE BEST feeling. I can do whatever I want! Order sushi..watch Gilmore girls… Clean out my closet..

    That said – I live in SF and totally get the feeling of being overstimulated (probably not as bad as New York, but still) and overtired from seemingly endless social interactions. I definitely wouldn’t want to be home alone every Saturday night, but the rarity makes it special and enjoyable. It’s the luxury of choice.

  • As an introvert who really does enjoy being at home by myself with a book or the newest anime series, this whole “trend” of staying in is biting me in the ass. Because every once in a while I really want to go out, but it’s almost like it’s not cool to do that now and people don’t want to when I finally peel my ass off the cheese-doodle dusted couch and go.

    I just can’t win!

  • I’m always the one who is happy when plans are cancelled! But I agree that the weather does effect plans as I will be a lot more sociable once the nights are light till late.
    Here in London, I find that it’s super sociable and every other night there is some sort of drinks or dinner. Two thirds of our monthly salary goes on rent and I’m sure the rest of it goes on eating out and wine. There’s always so much going on and always so many people to be catching up with! But when I have the flat to myself, I’m always super happy as I get to do whatever I want and not be judged on the amount of food I order in. That is when I’m happiest, as I always need my Friday nights to relax and have downtime after a busy week.

  • Rae

    I think the term ‘introvert’ has been so overused recently in pop culture that its actual meaning has been lost, and I think (and I mean this in the least snobby way possible) that it’s being misused here. Introverted isn’t something you “feel” or a way that you act; it’s a personality trait, it’s something that you ARE. There are biological differences between introverts and extroverts that often cause those who fall further on the introverted side of the scale to want to stay in more, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also enjoy going out. A great way to think of it simply is that introverts USE energy to be around other people, while extroverts GAIN energy from human interaction. I agree, however, that it’s a continuum, and not an either/or. ‘Introverted’ has been used interchangeably with ‘shy’ or ‘social anxiety’ and all three of those are actually different.

    As a personal example, I identify strongly as an introvert (I’m highly sensitive to stimuli, & crave alone time after extended periods of human interaction) but I’m also very social and enjoy going out. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is very highly extroverted and really dislikes being alone, but can still enjoy the occasional take-out & Netflix binge night with me.

    If anyone is interested, I HIGHLY recommend reading “Quiet” by Suan Cain.

  • 1. The staying in thing is a total backlash to instagram feeds of “I’m at this gala and this opening and this premiere and this super exclusive thing that you are not at” which, btw, I still see.
    2. You’re right, it’s become an event because of social media. Because of a carefully arranged still life of red wine and Popeye’s, the most mundane actions feel artistic–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
    3. I still feel like there’s a pressure to go out in NYC though, at least for holidays that wouldn’t mean much in other smaller cities/towns. Like for instance, if you lived in the suburbs I feel like it would be perfectly normal to not go to a halloween party/celebrate Cinco de Mayo/St. Patrick’s Day over the age of 22.
    4. It *is* all about what you feel like you can choose. Going out doesn’t feel fun when it isn’t a choice but an obligation you put on yourself. But staying in doesn’t feel fun either if you’re not being a hermit by choice.

    • Well said. Freedom of choice = fun and satisfaction, whatever you end up doing.

  • Katherine Sargeant

    Kind of funny that I landed on this as I am skipping the third day of Coachella with no regrets